DISCLAIMER: The characters used in this story are not mine and belong to various people I have to contact with.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I realise I keep making promises about when I'll get around to updating this so I won't do that this time. I'll only say that is my favourite story to write (when the pesky novel is taking a backseat) so it may not be as long as you expect. And, again, thanks for reading and for the people who have emailed me to say they're enjoying it.
SPOILERS: Up to S2 for The 4400, round about S1 for The Gilmore Girls.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To lucyvictoriabrown[at]gmail.com

3459: Lorelai Gilmore
By CharmedLassie


Part 13

'Di? Di?' The voice coming from the phone sounded a million miles away. She thought she ought to lift it back to her ear but she was too busy gaping at the woman in front of her.

Finally, Nina said, 'I think your girlfriend's trying to talk to you.'

Swallowing, she dragged the phone up. 'Lorelai?'

'I'll take care of it,' her lover said instantly. 'Everything's fine. I'll see you soon, okay?'

The line went dead. Gesturing for Nina to come in, she put the phone deliberately back in its holder and stood in the middle of the living room. Nina joined her, looking ever so slightly smug.

'You seem surprised to see me, Diana.'

She was gathering herself back together. 'Do you wonder why? We didn't exactly part on good terms, did we?'

'No, but that's only because I don't like liars on my team,' Nina answered.

'Funny, I thought they'd fit right in.'

Chuckling, Nina murmured, 'I've actually missed you.'

'Is that why you hopped on a plane for a visit?' she questioned.

'I'm just passing through. I've got a few meetings over in Hartford and I thought I'd drop in and see how things are going for you in your new life. I take it this is permanent for you?'

'That's still up for negotiation.'

'Still having trouble with the in-laws?' Nina asked.

'Not that I don't appreciate the concern but I honestly don't think you care,' Diana shot back.

After a moment her ex-boss went on, 'How's Maia?'

Softening ever so slightly, she said, 'She's fine. I've put her in school, it's her first day today.'

'That's good. Does she like it here?'

'I think she feels it's home. You know, maybe for the first time since she got back she's got the people and she's got the place. She deserves it, don't you think?'

Something flickered across Nina's face. 'I do. I like Maia a lot, you know that.'

'Do you see her as more than just a number?' Diana asked.

'I see her as your daughter, that's all. If you and her are going to be happy here then I'm pleased for you.'

'And you came by to say that?'

'I came by to be friendly.' Nina paused. 'Do you keep in touch with Baldwin?'

'I hear from him once in a while – why?'

'Well, I know he's not supposed to but I thought he might keep you up to date on developments, your old cases, that kind of thing.'

Diana shrugged. 'No, nothing like that. I've actually been able to leave the job behind.'

'I envy you that,' said Nina. 'But surely you're curious? About the returnees you dealt with, the ones that got away?'

The phrasing made her stomach constrict but she thought she hid it well. 'I'll wait until they hit the headlines.'

'Oh, they will. They always so. Anyway,' she went on abruptly, 'I have to be going. I'll be in touch, Diana.'

With that, she was gone like a ghost. For a few minutes Diana doubted her own eyes and ears, wondered if this had been some terrible nightmare, but when Lorelai bolted through the door she knew she hadn't been imagining things. The look on the returnee's face was pure terror.

'What happened? Is she still here?'

Diana shook her head mutely.

'Well, what happened? What did she say? Come on, Di, you're killing me here.'

'Erm...' She tried to clear it in her own mind. 'She claims she's passing through Hartford. I don't believe her one bit. Nina doesn't drop in, she doesn't show a passing interest in a woman who walked out of her team a few months ago.'

'No,' Lorelai said quietly, arms crossed tight over her chest, 'I don't think she would either.'

'Then she's up to something. She wants something.'

'Sit,' her lover instructed, guiding her suddenly to the couch. 'Gary's safe. He's locked in a room at the inn with specific instructions not to move. He gets it, he knows what's at stake.'

'It is him, it is him she's here for,' Diana murmured. 'She was talking about headlines and old cases and the ones that got away. She knows.'

'She can't know. Can she?'

'I don't know, maybe. Nina's not stupid and she knew she was pushing my buttons. Why else is she here now?'

Lorelai pursed her lips. 'You need to speak to Tom.'

'I don't know if that's safe. What if she's monitoring his calls?'

'Then...call Alana,' she answered.

Diana kissed her. 'You're a genius.'

Twenty minutes later they had a clearer idea of...well, nothing, really. Alana only knew what Tom told her, of course, but he told her more than he should. The fact that she didn't know anything suggested that Tom had been kept in the dark about whatever Nina was up to. That didn't bode well. Alana promised to call back with more information when Tom got home from work but in the meantime they were forced to wonder. Lorelai, distracted as she was herself, insisted on Diana returning to the inn with her so that she didn't accidentally burn the house down. Until she went to meet Maia at school she took root in the dining room at the inn – Sookie kept sending her out an assortment of cakes which threatened her waistline, as Lorelai gleefully pointed out.

'You watch your tongue,' Diana told her, relieved to be indulging in a little typical Gilmore banter.

Lorelai smirked. 'Honey, you know I'm only saying it to cover up what years of Sookie's cooking has done to my figure.'

'You're gorgeous and you know it.'

'Well, I don't know about me but I know about you,' Lorelai shot back. 'Try the pink cake with the wafers, it's worth getting fat for.'

Before she left the inn to pick up Maia she supposed she'd better pay Gary a visit. He didn't look very calm, in a dark room reading a book by lamplight. He jumped up on seeing her.

'Is it true what Lorelai said? Is your boss here?'

Diana nodded. 'Afraid so but we're going to do everything we can to keep you out of sight. No one knows your real name, most people would have difficulty reconciling you with that clean-shaven ball player so just stay vigilant and we'll be fine.'

'You're trying to sound sure,' he observed.

'I can't believe that what Maia's seen for you involves you being carted out of town by Nina Jarvis. So sit tight.'

He accepted that explanation with a thoughtful nod and she was grateful to excuse herself to pick up her daughter. She was relieved to see Maia bound out of the doors in conversation with another girl and smiled as they waved each other off. Although, she noted, the mother didn't seem overawed with her daughter's new friend. She must've heard the town gossips already.

Still, Maia didn't seem at all bothered. 'That was Casey,' she said as she trotted up. 'She's in my class and she let me share her juice.'

Diana smiled as they turned in the direction of home. It was such a long time since she'd heard such a normal thing come out of her daughter's mouth. Everything was always in the midst of a battle for them but maybe in Stars Hollow that wasn't the case anymore. At least, it wouldn't be when Nina Jarvis was safely back in Seattle.

As they walked Maia kept up a steady stream of chatter about the day. When they neared the house, though, she grew a little quiet before asking, 'Is something wrong? We are staying, aren't we?'

She wrapped an arm around her shoulders. 'Of course we are, sweetie. Believe me, I'm so glad you had a good first day. Makes me feel a whole lot better.'

'But something's upset you,' her daughter answered.

'I'm not upset, I'm...' She took a long breath and decided to tell the truth. 'Nina's in town and I think she's looking for Gary.'

Maia absorbed that. 'She can't find him,' she said finally.

'Can't or won't?' Diana asked.

'Can't,' Maia repeated. 'You mustn't let her.'

So this was one of the visions that was subject to change. That didn't lighten Diana's heart much but she resolved to hide that from her daughter if she could. When they got inside she set her up in her bedroom with a book then went to see what she could scramble up for dinner in Lorelai's under-stocked kitchen.

Lorelai came home promptly, her face betraying the fact she was nervous. Diana welcomed her with a kiss and a long embrace before pointing to the coffee in the pot and sitting them both down at the table. They didn't speak, it was enough just to be together and know that Maia was in the other room, safe and sound. However, when there was a knock on the door both of them jumped out of their skin.

'I'll get it,' said Diana. 'But if it was serious Nina would just break the door down.'

'That's a comforting thought,' Lorelai muttered.

When she went to answer the door, though, she was surprised to see Emily Gilmore on the threshold. 'Oh, hello. What can we do for you?'

Emily didn't seem to notice the plural term or, if she did, she'd reconciled herself to it. No, the finely-dressed matriarch seemed distracted by something else. 'May I come in?'

'Of course,' she said carefully before calling out, 'Lorelai, it's your mom.'

When Lorelai appeared in the living room it was obvious that she didn't know how to take her mother's visit anymore than Diana did. 'Come sit down,' she said to her mother, closing the door and following them into the living room.

Emily took a seat apprehensively. 'I appreciate you letting me in.'

'What's wrong?' Diana asked.

'I've just had a visit from that odious woman you used to work for, Diana. Nina,' she elaborated with a distasteful smirk. 'She was questioning me about somebody I've never even heard of. I don't know what she was hoping to achieve but since I don't have the faintest idea who she was talking about I can only assume it was something to do with you. I thought you ought to know.'

Diana exchanged a glance with Lorelai before replying, 'Thank you, I appreciate the concern.'

'I'm happy to help,' Emily said, looking around the room as though she thought she ought to leave but she didn't seem to want to. 'How are you both? And Maia, of course.'

'We're good, Mom,' Lorelai answered. 'Maia started school here today. She seems to like it.'

'That means you're staying?' Emily asked Diana in neutral tones.

'I hope so.'

'Good,' she said. 'I know Richard respects you and I don't think he's ever been charmed by anyone besides Rory as much as he's been charmed by that daughter of yours.'

Diana couldn't help but smile. 'That's good to hear. Can I get you a drink?'

'No, thank you, I have a dinner engagement.' She paused. 'May I speak with you before I leave, Diana?'

Curious, she nodded and cast Lorelai a glance as Emily stood and stepped towards the door. Although infinitely curious herself – if Diana's intimate knowledge of the returnee was correct – Lorelai smiled carefully at her mother then fled back to the kitchen. Diana followed Emily out onto the porch and pulled the door closed behind them.

'What is it?' she asked.

'Rory didn't come home last night. She's back now,' she went on quickly. 'She turned up before breakfast and Richard hasn't noticed her suspicious behaviour. I haven't confronted her. I doubt I'd be well-received.'

Diana exhaled deeply. 'Do you know where she was?'

'I suspect she was in Stars Hollow with that new boyfriend of hers. Richard's vigilance had slipped somewhat and, since that escapade at dinner, she's become increasingly erratic. I'm not blaming you,' Emily added. 'I've accepted the way things are between you and Lorelai but it's plain that Rory hasn't.'

'You've accepted it?' Diana queried.

'If I'm to have any semblance of a relationship with my daughter, I need to accept her choices. It took me a long time to realise that. Besides,' she went on, with an attempt at light heartedness, 'I do have a certain fondness for Maia. I would hate for her to be unhappy because of anything I said or did. I've learned my lessons, Diana.'

'I can see that,' she answered. 'Why didn't you tell Lorelai this – why come to me?'

'I'm afraid that Lorelai would blame me. I know that apparently everything is my fault but, since you returned, I've been supportive of you and Lorelai. I've told Rory as much but, as you might guess, it made her dig her heels in even more. Just like her mother.'

'That's why this is so difficult for both of them.'

'The last thing Lorelai wants is for Rory to end up a young mother,' Emily said after a moment. 'I know she doesn't regret it personally but it's not the right path for Rory. That girl should be at the top of whatever field she wants to go into – and she will be if I've got anything to do with it.'

The conversation could have continued but Diana had the sense to let it go before either one of them lost the haughty respect that seemed to have sprung up between them. She nodded goodbye then took a moment before she went back into the house. She needed to plan how she was going to tell Lorelai this. She'd resolved there'd be no more secrets between them but this was going to be tricky, to say the least.

Going back inside, she lingered in the doorway of the kitchen until Lorelai looked up and caught her eye. Squeezing Maia's arm, Lorelai followed her into the living room, arms wrapped around herself in that familiar protective gesture.

'What did she want?' she asked.

'Rory stayed out overnight,' Diana answered without preamble. 'She's back now but your mother's worried and she wanted you to know.'

'So why didn't she tell me?'

'Because she's scared of breaking the fragile peace, I think. She says she's on our side, that she's accepted us.'

Lorelai didn't snort, as she'd expected, but just looked thoughtful. After a few seconds, she dropped onto the sofa. 'I don't know how to fix this, Di. You know, before I would've been able to talk to Rory or to lock her in her room but... It doesn't matter, she wouldn't have done this before. It's my fault. I don't want her making my mistakes.'

'That'll be in the back of her mind, I'm sure.'

'But you can't be,' Lorelai said, her voice breaking. 'I don't know her anymore. I lost her, didn't I?'

Sitting down beside her, Diana reached for her hand. 'You haven't lost her yet. We can fix this. We just need time.'

'One thing we haven't got much of. She'll be gone soon, Di. Once she's at college, I don't get her back. That's as simple as it is.'

That was true. Unable to think of something to say, Diana pulled her into a sideways hug and kissed her temple. They stayed like that until Diana's cell phone pulled them apart a few minutes later.

'Unknown number,' she murmured, looking at the display before answering it. 'Diana Skouris, hello?'

'It's Tom,' came the voice on the other end. 'Alana told me about Nina. I've been doing some digging. Marco's been doing his thing and, the result is, Nina suspects Gary's in Stars Hollow but she doesn't know. She's fishing, that's all.'

Diana released her breath. 'That's a relief.'

'Yeah, she just thinks it's peculiar that you've spent so much time there lately and it coincided with Gary going missing. So all you have to do is come home and she'll probably let it rest.'

She glanced at Lorelai. 'Tom, I can't come home.'

'Diana, Gary's safer there without you.'

'Maybe,' she conceded, 'but... Maia started school today.'

There was a lengthy silence before Tom muttered, 'What the hell are you doing? You lied to me. You said you were coming back. Maybe not to NTAC but to Seattle.'

Reaching for Lorelai's hand, Diana entwined their fingers as she answered, 'Until I got here, I didn't realise how hard leaving would be. Tom, I'm happy and Maia's happy.'

'You barely know her.' The hurt was evident in his voice.

'And yet I feel closer to her than I have to anybody else in my life. That has to count for something. Tom, you turned up to work one day with a wife that you said you'd known for years because you'd lived in a different reality with her. Sometimes things take you by surprise.'

He sighed. 'Diana, I don't know what the hell's going on. I don't feel like I've got a purpose anymore, I'm mopping up Nina's messes and I'm no closer to working out what it all means. I don't think anyone can help me with that except you. Vested interests, remember? Not disease clusters, not problems: they're people. They were taken for a reason and they were brought back for a reason. We're connected for a reason.'

She swallowed down the emotion that had sprung into her throat with some difficulty. 'I believe that as much as you do.'

'Then why are you giving in?' he demanded.

'I'm not,' she answered. 'I'm not only here because I want to be, though God knows I do. Maia wants to be here, she keeps talking cryptically, talking about Gary being the reason 'it' happens. I don't know what the hell she means but I know we have to wait it out.'

'I thought you were waiting it out then coming home.'

'Tom,' she said carefully, 'I am home.'

His voice was thick. 'Listen, keep me in the loop, okay? Call Alana, not me. I've been mending bridges with Shawn. If you need anything – any of you – he's more than willing to help.'

'Thank you.'

Once she'd hung up she leaned instinctively into Lorelai's embrace. Without saying a word, they repositioned themselves horizontally on the couch. They stayed like that until Diana's arm, tucked underneath her lover, began to go numb. Even then, she was reluctant to move.

'I suppose we need to think about what to do,' she murmured.

'I don't know that there's much we can do,' Lorelai replied, kissing her cheek. 'We need to know what Nina's planning next. She's been to my mother, I don't even know why.'

'All she has to do is walk round this town with a picture of Gary and she'll get her confirmation,' Diana said. 'If that happens, I've failed.'

'You haven't failed. Look, we can't do anything tonight. I think Nina might be playing for time, trying to make us jump so she doesn't have to do any of the hard work. Don't give her that satisfaction.'

Diana hesitated before asking, 'And what about Rory?'

Lorelai let out a small groan. 'We'll sleep on that as well.'

'I think I need some air,' Diana said, sitting up. 'Do you mind if I go for a walk?'

'Are you okay?' Lorelai's face betrayed her anxiety.

'I've got headache,' she said honestly. 'I just need to think. Please, it's nothing to do with you.'

Kissing her briefly, her lover smiled. 'Don't justify yourself, Di. You've got a lot on your mind. You go for a walk, I'll order some pizza for dinner and we can watch a movie with Maia, even if it is a school night.'

'Thanks, Gilmore.' She kissed her again and stood to leave. 'We'll get through this. We've gotten through everything else.'

Perhaps that wasn't the best argument to use, she realised as she walked through the quiet town a few minutes later. There was a limit to everyone's endurance and she didn't want this latest debacle to be the straw that broke them. But Nina sniffing around could very easily break them. All she could really do now was hope – she didn't have a better idea.

As she was walking past the gazebo, she caught sight of a figure hunched up inside. It took her a few moments to realise precisely who she was looking at. Even then, she hesitated before she approached but the rest of the street was quiet enough. Any argument probably would be just between the two of them.

Getting closer, she saw that there was very little fight left in the teenager. She'd evidently been crying for a while.

'Rory?' she said softly.

Lowering her face, she muttered, 'I don't want to talk.'

'I can't leave you like this.' She paused. 'Is this about what happened last night?'

Her head snapped up, suddenly panicked. 'How did you know?'

Diana risked sitting down beside her. 'Well, your grandmother came around earlier – about something else – and she just mentioned that you stayed out. It's not difficult to put two and two together.' Hesitating, she then asked, 'Were you safe?'

A fresh tear dribbled down Rory's cheek. 'Yeah.'

Releasing her breath, Diana answered, 'Well, that's the most important thing.'

'But I...' Trailing off, she sniffed. 'I don't even know why I'm talking to you about this.'

'Because I'm here. If it makes it easier, pretend we're never met.'

There was a pause then Rory nodded. 'I didn't expect to feel this way. It's just... I don't know.'

'Was he gentle?' Diana asked.

'He was really sweet but afterwards I felt...detached maybe. Maybe that's it.'

Sighing, Diana put a hand on her arm. 'That's not all that uncommon, Rory. It's an intimate thing. If you're not ready for it or you're doing it for the wrong reasons or you're pressured into –'

'He didn't pressure me,' she interrupted. 'That's not fair.'

'Okay, I was just saying. It happens.'

The sudden fire in the teen extinguished. 'Is there something wrong with me?'

'No! God, I've felt like that, I think most women have at some point or another. Don't blame Dean, it's not his fault. It's just something you have to go through. It could be,' she went on carefully, 'that you were using your relationship with him to block other things out and you suddenly find you can't do that anymore.'

'Not consciously,' Rory murmured.

'Of course not. But it might be there anyway.'

Taking a moment to wipe her eyes, Rory finally looked at her properly. 'Does Mom know?'

'Yeah, she knows.'

'Does she hate me?'

Diana shook her head. 'She's worried about you. She's dreading the idea of you going off to college and still hating her.'

'I don't... I don't hate either of you. I just can't...'

'Why not?' Diana pressed quietly. 'Come on, Rory, I want to understand.'

Fresh tears sprang into her eyes. 'She left me, Diana. She didn't come back, she didn't fight. Why didn't she care enough to do that?'

'You're using me as the excuse,' Diana realised aloud. 'You're angry at her for what happened when the 4400 were returned.'

'You, she'll fight for.' Rory swallowed hard. 'She'll stand up in the middle of town and be proud of you, she'll face Grandma with you. Why couldn't she do that two years ago, huh?'

'Okay, I don't know for certain because I'm not in her head but I think...' Diana stopped, unsure how this would sound. 'I think she can stand up to your Grandma and everybody now because I'm with her. She wanted to for you but she was scared. Maybe she couldn't do it without your support.'

'Until she had yours,' Rory concluded in a lifeless tone.

'Maybe. I realise how hard these last few years have been on you, so does she. It's tearing her up and she's trying not to show it. But, here's the thing, I can't do what I do or see the things I've seen without knowing there's a plan to all this. To me adopting Maia, to meeting your mom, to ending up in Stars Hollow. I believe in that as much as I believe in my love for Maia or Lorelai's love for you.'

'And your love for her.' There was a glimmer of understanding on the teen's face. 'If this was meant to happen, why does it all hurt so much?'

Diana chuckled. 'Believe me, I've been wondering that for a while myself. But there's a reason for the pain. I don't know what it is yet but it's got me and Maia here. I have to trust in it.'

A few tears fell onto Rory's hand. 'I thought that she'd chosen you over me.'

'That was never true. She chose all of us – you, Maia and me. Why do you think we're here? We want to be in Stars Hollow, we want to be a proper family. If she'd chosen anything but you, Rory, we'd be in Seattle right now, wouldn't we? She's putting herself through agony every day because she hopes you'll come round eventually.'

'I miss her,' Rory murmured. 'I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I wanted to talk to her about Dean, because we always said we'd talk about it, and I couldn't and I felt so...'

She broke off as her tears overflowed again. Diana wrapped an arm around her shoulders. 'How about talking to her now, hmm?'

Rory nodded into her shoulder. Gently raising her up, Diana supported her during the walk back home, feeling her grow steadily calmer the closer they got.

When she opened the door they heard the unmistakeable sound of Dorothy being swept off to Oz in a cyclone. She closed the door silently behind them and ushered Rory into the living room. Lorelai and Maia were sat on the couch, a pizza box open in front of them but barely touched. Diana glanced to Rory to check she was still okay – she was, though shaky – then cleared her throat.

'Enough there for one more?' she asked.

Lorelai's neck twisted and her jaw dropped. 'Rory, what... Are you... Di?' she concluded rather desperately.

Diana touched Rory's shoulder. 'Go sit down, grab some pizza.'

Although Lorelai still looked flabbergasted, she nudged up a little as Rory sat down. In the corner of the couch, Maia was smiling contentedly. She squeezed Lorelai's hand then hopped up, stepping round the couch and taking Diana's hand.

It was time to give them some privacy, Diana knew, though taking her eyes off them was tricky. She watched as Rory focused on the screen then, after a beat, she edged towards her mother. When Diana finally allowed Maia to lead her from the room, the image embedded in her mind was Lorelai looking over the shoulder of the daughter she was cradling and mouthing 'thank you' as tears streaked her own cheeks.

After maybe twenty minutes, during which Maia read a book at the kitchen table while Diana tried to still her over-active mind, Lorelai appeared, looking completely drained.

She kissed Maia on the head. 'Wanna watch the end of The Wizard of Oz? And eat something too, huh?'

'Okay.' Maia slipped from the chair and gave her a quick hug before disappearing into the lounge.

Lorelai stood there stunned for a few moments then Diana rose and enveloped her in her arms. Then she sat her down in the seat Maia had vacated and returned to her own chair.

'Are you okay?' she asked.

'I think so.' Lorelai exhaled. 'What is it with today? I know Mondays are tricky but this one takes the biscuit. I mean, Nina, Mom and now...'

'Is she okay?' Diana asked when she trailed off.

'I think so. She's gone to blow her nose. What the hell happened, Di?'

'What did she say?'

'Nothing much.'

'She will eventually.'

A faint smile slipped onto Lorelai's face. 'Meaning you're not getting stuck in the middle.'

'Not this time.' She reached across and stroked her cheek. 'At least this day brought something good with it.'

Suddenly aware of a presence in the corner, Diana let her hand drop, worried how Rory would react. She didn't say anything though, coming to sit down at the table as though she hadn't seen something that would've made her scream a few hours ago. Although the alteration was welcome, Diana was still wary of it.

'I need to talk to you,' Rory said, her voice shaky but completely serious.

Lorelai's panic was evident in her face. 'What about?'

Rory shot her a reassuring smile. 'Not about...that. Diana, a woman who said she was your old boss came to see me at school today.'

That was a bucket of cold water. 'Nina Jarvis?'

'That's her. She was asking me a lot of questions. Don't worry,' she went on, 'I didn't tell her about Gary.'

Diana exchanged a glance with Lorelai. 'What do you mean?'

'She was digging for information, that's all,' Rory said with a shrug. 'She knew I wasn't really talking to you both and I think she wanted to see if that would translate into spilling the beans about him.'

'I told you she'd recognise him!' Diana said, with an accusatory look at Lorelai.

'Shush, it worked out,' her lover answered, swatting her arm.

'Is that the point?' Diana questioned.

'Yes,' Lorelai and Rory said in unison.

She couldn't help but chuckle. 'Okay, so it is.' Then her sense returned. 'So, Rory, what –'

'Of course I didn't tell her anything,' she interrupted. 'I might've been mad at you but I'm not stupid. I thought I recognised him so I double checked. I know he disappeared, I saw all the things they said about him. I knew that if you'd brought him here, there had to be a good reason, that he couldn't have done what they said he had. So I figured your old boss might not be on your side, if she was asking questions.'

'Knew you were a smart kid, Rory,' Diana said. 'The truth is, they were using Gary to fix some problems for them. He can read minds. That was all sorts of useful for them.'

'I bet.' Rory paused, the general seriousness of her nature taking over her face again. 'You talk about 'them', as if you weren't –'

'I'm not proud of things I've been party to,' Diana cut in. 'But I look at where it's got me and I am proud of that.'

'Likewise,' Lorelai murmured.

Rory looked between them. 'What happens if your boss finds him?'

Diana swallowed. 'Gary disappears, probably never to be seen again. And I'll be an accessory, possibly your mom too, though I hope to keep her out of it. And if that happens...'

'Maia,' Rory concluded for her.

'That won't happen,' Lorelai said, reaching over and taking her hand. 'I swear to God, Di, I won't let it.'

'Me neither,' Rory added. 'I've got an idea but I need to sleep on it.'

'An idea?' Diana repeated.

'It might work, it might not. I just need to think.' She stifled a yawn. 'And I guess I'm tired.'

There was a pause then Lorelai asked, very quietly, 'Is your car in town? Do you want me to get it?'

'No... I...' Rory looked up hesitantly. 'Could I stay –'

'Yes,' Diana and Lorelai said together.

A true smile slid over the teen's face. 'Can I watch the end of the movie?'

Lorelai grinned. 'Race ya.'

As they sped off, Diana followed at a slower pace. When she arrived in the living room she felt a thrill in her chest. Rory and Maia had pushed the table forward and were sat on the floor, already with slices of pizza in their hands. Lorelai was on the couch, waiting for her. Although a little anxious, she slipped down beside her, gratified as Lorelai wrapped an arm around her and kissed her temple. For all the worries nagging at her, Diana resolved to enjoy this moment. It could all be over tomorrow if Nina had her way but, for the time being, they had their family. It was enough.

Lorelai turned over for the third time in as many minutes. Sighing, Diana rolled onto her side and reached out a hand.

'Can't sleep?' she questioned.

'Did I wake you?'

'It's not me I'm worried about,' she said. 'I don't have work tomorrow.'

'What you're trying to do is more important,' Lorelai muttered.

'Don't deflect, talk to me, come on.'

Exhaling, she sat up and pulled her pillow onto her lap, scrunching it tight. 'I'm not sure what the hell happened here tonight. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm so grateful but I don't really believe in it.'

'That's understandable, neither do I.'

'Is she gonna change her mind tomorrow, Di? I couldn't handle that.'

'I know, I know.' Massaging her knee in slow circles, she added, 'For what it's worth, I don't think Rory could either. I think she's broken, I think this is it.'

'But she thought I didn't love her enough to fight for her. Me and Rory... What the hell did I do?'

'You were scared,' Diana said simply. 'You were alone, you'd just been returned from God knows where and you didn't know what she'd think of you anymore. It's rational, it's defensible.'

'It's not,' Lorelai answered. 'If that's really what she thinks then why is she here?'

'Because she's figured out life is too short? I know I certainly have.'

Lorelai shrugged. 'I hope it's that but... Di, I've got this horrible thought circulating, it won't go away.'

Pulling herself up to sit beside her, she murmured, 'Go on.'

After a moment she replied, 'I look at her now and I swear I see my mother. All that time, it has to rub off, doesn't it?'

'Not necessarily,' Diana said. 'It didn't on you. Rory's a lot like you.'

'Used to be. But then I didn't come back. I don't know what that did to her. I only know what our relationship did to her –'

'It wasn't us,' she interrupted.

'No, it was me abandoning her. And since then she's been at the mercy of my mother. What if... What my mother would do is the most underhand thing she could think of.'

'What's that in this case?' Diana asked, though she thought she already knew.

'Make us feel secure and then sell us out.'

Diana shivered. 'That would be vindictive.'

'And I hate myself for thinking it but I can't help it. I don't believe she can just snap her fingers and forgive me like that.'

'You didn't see her at the gazebo, Lorelai. She needed her mother. It might be sudden but it was that moment that did it. She weakened. That's how you realise things. When you turned up on my doorstep in Seattle, after those weeks of pushing you away and not answering your calls, suddenly I couldn't avoid it anymore. You were there, I had to deal with it. I think something similar happened to Rory tonight when I passed by. Think about it logically – there was no way she could anticipate I was going to be there. It wasn't an act.'

'I'm not saying she wasn't upset,' Lorelai replied, 'but I'm just wondering what's going on in that head of hers. You know how smart she is, Di. The cogs are turning in there but I can't predict them anymore.'

'I believe she's genuine,' Diana said softly.

'I can't bet your life on that.' Suddenly, Lorelai swept the covers away and slipped out of bed.

'Hey, hey, where are you going? You can't wake her up.'

'I'm not.'

As Lorelai began pulling on the clothes she'd discarded earlier, Diana teased away the sleep in her eyes. 'Come on, where are you going? It's two in the morning.'

'By tomorrow it might be too late.'

Diana reached for her clothes as well. 'What are you going to do?'

'Get Gary out of the inn.'

'And, what, bring him here?'

Lorelai shook her head. 'That's as dangerous. But I've got an idea.'

'Do I get to know?' Diana asked.

'Just get dressed.'

By the time they'd walked to the inn via a few backstreets Diana was sincerely wishing she'd brought a coat. Lorelai was thundering along with her arms crossed, face impassively, creating one heck of a breeze as Diana struggled to keep up with her. When they were nearing the inn, she ventured one more opinion.

'Do you really think she'd do that to Maia?' she tried.

Lorelai slowed finally. 'I hope not. If she has done this, I hope it didn't occur to her that Maia might be hurt by it. I hope she was just trying to get back at me. But maybe that was part of the problem.'

'What do you mean?'

'New family, new life. I know how it must look.'

'Sweetheart, I think you're being too hard on her,' Diana said, half-reaching out and then allowing her hand to fall back. Lorelai caught the gesture and her face softened.

'Let me do this and I'll feel better. I can't stand anymore nasty surprises, you know? For once, I want to be a step ahead. Then I'll talk it out with Rory and I'll try to make it right.'

This time Diana took her hand. 'Okay. But let's be careful about this. If we really are in trouble, let's try and avoid it.'

'In your hands, genius.'

'Expert,' she corrected. 'Let me take a look around.'

After a few minutes scouring the perimeter, she was fairly confident they were alone at this godforsaken hour. Returning to Lorelai, she nodded for them to proceed and Lorelai used her keys to get in, waving to the night manager. He made to come over but she gestured him back to his seat in the lounge while she approached the desk and collected a key. The smirk that came over his face suggested he'd formed his own ideas about what they were up which was preferable to him knowing anything about the truth. Following Lorelai upstairs, they slipped into Gary's room without waking him. Lorelai hesitated by the door, watching the sleeping figure.

'What if he panics?' she asked.

'What if I do?' Diana retorted. 'I've got this.'

Approaching quietly, she put her hand over Gary's mouth whilst shaking him gently with her other hand. He came to quite quickly, biting down on her fingers. She withdrew, shaking her hand.

'It's Diana,' she murmured.

'What's wrong?'

'We need to get you out of here,' she replied as he slipped out of bed. 'Get your things together quickly, we can't leave any trace.'

While he complied without a word – evidently he'd been prepared for this moment in his mind – Diana stood by the door exchanging anxious looks with Lorelai. They needed this to be swift, though she still didn't have a clue where they were taking him.

A few minutes later they were padding down the stairs in a line, Lorelai leading. She gestured to them to wait while she went to talk to the night manager. Left alone with Gary on the staircase, Diana attempted a smile.

'This is just a precaution,' she whispered. 'A hunch that hopefully won't pay off.'

'Have we got a plan?' he questioned.

'Lorelai has. I hope.'

The voices coming from the lounge drifted away. Diana took the initiative and slipped out of the door, Gary on her heels. They waited around the corner in silence until Lorelai joined them a few minutes later.

'Okay,' she said. 'Let's do this.'

'And what are we doing?' Diana asked to no response.

All became clear a few minutes later when they pitched up in front of Luke's. Lorelai told Gary to wait around the corner in the shadows. Once he was gone, she started banging on the door.

Diana bit her lip. 'Is this a good idea?'

'It's the best we've got. Can't take him to Dad, I don't want him getting tied up in this. Sookie's heart's in the right place but Jackson would freak. Nobody else in the town is discreet enough or would want to keep it quiet. Luke's the only one I trust.'

She couldn't argue with that logic. Waiting for Lorelai's efforts to pay dividends, she kept glancing around, feeling as though the eyes of the town were on her. At this time of night, though, everyone was asleep. That thought brought another yawn with it. She just hoped Maia was sleeping soundly and didn't wake up to find both her and Lorelai missing.

Finally, Luke's head appeared out of the window above and he hissed, 'Do you know what time it is?'

'Dark,' Lorelai retorted. 'Let us in.'

'Go home,' he said. 'Get sleep, get therapy, I don't care. Just go home.'

'Luke,' Diana said, her voice echoing in the empty street, 'this is important. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't.'

He rubbed his eyes. 'I'll be right down.'

'Thank God he listens to one of us,' Lorelai muttered. 'I'll get Gary.'

Although Luke was startled to find three of them on the doorstep, he shrugged it off, beckoning them inside and, after taking a look at their faces, gestured them upstairs, locking the door behind them. Diana didn't really have time to marvel at the sparse apartment she found herself in – Luke was rightfully eager for an explanation. He stood there with his arms crossed, shooting odd glances at Gary, while Diana tried to explain the situation succinctly.

'So,' Luke said when she'd finished, 'you're telling me he's wanted by the government? But you didn't say what for. Can't expect me to help if I don't know the facts.'

It was Lorelai who answered: 'You know the 4400 – some of them – have abilities, don't you?'

He nodded. 'It was all in the paper when you came home.'

'Not all,' she replied and Diana immediately knew exactly how much she was going to open up to him. 'My accident,' she went on quietly, 'was because I have the ability to control electricity. It brought that pole down, nearly killed me. I've nearly got it under control I think. Gary has... He can read minds.'

Luke immediately shifted feet. 'Excuse me?'

'You don't believe it,' Gary muttered.

'It's pretty far-fetched,' Luke replied.

Lorelai glanced around. 'Look, think about what's in that drawer over there – provided it's decent – and he'll tell you what you're thinking.'

Although he still seemed unconvinced, he glanced towards the drawer in question and then back to Gary.

'Okay,' Gary said slowly with a small grin, 'what's actually in there are your socks and a few fishing books but you'd like me to think it's where you keep your account ledgers. Do I pass?'

Luke exhaled, looking extremely uncomfortable. 'Yeah, you pass.' Then he looked back to Diana. 'What do you want from me?'

'A safe haven, just for a few days. Keep him here, keep him out of sight.'

'And then?'

Diana glanced to Lorelai. 'I'm afraid we haven't got that far yet.'

'What happens if they decide to walk about town with a picture?' Luke asked.

'No idea,' Lorelai said.

'Or if they raid my apartment?'

'They won't,' Diana answered. 'They haven't got a reason to.'

He sighed. 'I hope you know what you're doing.'

'You're not the only one,' Lorelai said with a wry smile.

After a moment, Luke nodded. 'Okay, he can stay but you better get outta here.'

'Thank you,' Diana said sincerely. 'I really appreciate it.'

'I know, I know. Go on, get outta here.'

With one last, hopefully reassuring, look at Gary, they left the apartment with Luke on their heels. Once he'd locked up behind them, Diana cast her eyes around the street to make sure nobody was watching then took Lorelai's hand and squeezed tight. By the time they got back to the house, it was well after three and they were both exhausted. At least the girls were still asleep. Diana checked on them before following Lorelai up the stairs.

Slumping onto the bed, Lorelai muttered, 'I hope it's enough.'

Diana sat down beside her, reaching over. 'If it isn't, it's not for lack of anything you've done, believe me.'

The sound that jolted her awake was the phone ringing beside the bed. Lorelai woke a moment before her and was already picking it up before Diana realised what was going on.

'Hello?' Lorelai murmured. She sat upright all of a sudden. 'Excuse me?...I'll be right there, Michel. But we've got nothing to hide. Tell them that. But don't tell them anything else,' she added as an afterthought as she hung up the phone.

'What?' Diana pressed.

Jumping out of bed, Lorelai replied, 'NTAC have just raided the inn.'

'You've got to be kidding me?' Nevertheless, she was dressing herself almost automatically. 'What did Michel say?'

'He's panicked, they didn't tell him what they wanted so they just searched the rooms. I don't know if they're sticking around. He said they were making to leave. Why would they do that?'

'I don't know,' she muttered. 'But you were so right to move him. I have to say, I thought you were crazy.'

'I am. I was crazy and right for once.' Standing still, Lorelai exhaled angrily. 'I'm going to skin her alive.'

'Whoa, hang on. You don't know –'

'I don't know but I can take a pretty good guess. And I'm going to ask her about it right now.'

It was all Diana could do to pull her sweater on and chase Lorelai down the stairs. She grasped her arm in the living room, trying to instil some calm into the situation. Meeting her eye, Lorelai nodded, the fire dimming a little but still glinting alarmingly. Then Lorelai pulled her along the hallway to Rory and Maia's room, still ajar from when Diana had checked on them in the early hours.

They were already awake, Rory sat on the edge of Maia's bed while they chatted away. It was a pleasant scene but not one that melted Lorelai's heart one bit by the look of it.

'Maia, honey,' Lorelai said tightly, 'can you go get some breakfast? There's cereal in the cupboard.'

'Mom?' Maia murmured.

'It's okay, sweetheart. You do as she says.'

'What's going on?'

'I'll explain in a minute,' she said, patting her daughter's head as she reluctantly stood. 'I promise, it'll all be fine.'

Pushing the door to, Lorelai crossed her arms and swivelled back towards the bed. Diana had been trying to gauge Rory's reaction to what was going on, trying to ascertain her guilt, but she just seemed perplexed. Inwardly, Diana winced for what was about to happen. Still, even she had to admit it was a damn coincidence for NTAC to raid the inn today, a damn worrying one.

'What's wrong?' Rory asked.

'NTAC searched the inn this morning,' Lorelai replied.

The surprise on the teen's face seemed genuine. 'Oh, my God. Did they get him?'

'Nope. We moved him in the early hours. Lucky we did, huh?'

Rory shifted. 'Mom, what's going on? Why are you looking at me like that?'

'Lorelai...' Diana murmured.

'No, Di.' To her daughter, she said, 'The only person who knew for sure where Gary was last night happened to be you, kid. And you show up here, all repentant. I can't believe I fell for it.'

'Wait a minute, are you saying I –'

'Well, did you?' Lorelai interrupted.

'No! Why would I?'

'Because you hate me, I don't know.'

'I don't hate you. Diana – what is this?'

She held up one hand and reached for Lorelai with the other. 'I think we need to sit down and talk.'

'Can't,' her partner said. 'Gotta get to the inn and calm things down. You need to get Maia to school. Call me.'

With that, she swept out of the room. Diana massaged her forehead then looked back to Rory. 'I'm sorry.'

Scrunching her arms over her chest, she gestured to the door. 'What the hell, Diana?'

'I don't know. Well,' she amended, 'I understand where she's coming from – but I don't share her view. Now I need you to confirm that.'

'I didn't,' Rory said firmly.

'Okay, good.'

'I can't believe she thinks I'd do that,' she went on, the hurt evident on her face.

'She's not thinking straight,' Diana answered. 'It's a knee-jerk reaction. I don't condone it but I understand it. For her, this all happened so fast. She doesn't see you've been struggling with it, she just sees that you were furious and now you're not. You have to admit, it's a coincidence. But Nina was in town yesterday so I suppose it almost fits.'

'No,' Rory replied, 'not really. Why didn't she do it straight away?'

'That's the question,' she said. 'It doesn't make sense. But Gary's safe for now. I hope.'

'Where is he?' asked Rory after a moment.

Diana hesitated. 'I don't know that –'

'It's fine,' she interrupted, though her unhappiness was palpable. 'I was only going to say that if you want to keep him out of sight then there's only one place you should take him. I mean, Sookie would want to help but she'd tell the whole town before you could blink and even if Grandpa would want to help I'd be scared to get him involved. So the only place we could...' When Diana started chuckling, she trailed off. 'What? What's so funny?'

'Only that I've had this conversation before.'

Standing, Rory said, 'Should you have told me he's at Luke's?'

'Well, I didn't, did I?' Sighing, she continued, 'You need to get back to Hartford and I need to get Maia dressed and to school.'

'I'm staying here to help.'

'No, Rory, you need to study for your finals.'

'I've studied enough. This is more important.'

Diana shook her head. 'There's nothing you can really do. I'm sorry.'

'No, there must be something.' Pausing, she nibbled on her lip. 'What I was saying last night, about maybe having an idea...'

'I'd forgotten that,' she admitted. 'What was it?'

'Just that there's no way to hide Gary, not permanently – not unless you get other people in on it.'

Diana frowned. 'How on earth would we manage that? I can't imagine Taylor being receptive to housing a criminal in the town for a start.'

'Dean helps train the baseball team,' Rory answered. 'He says they can actually hit balls now. More than that, they can hit them well. That's about as technical as he gets with me but I know he means Gary's helping. Taylor wants the prestige of winning, that's what he lives for.'

'Are you honestly saying he cares more about baseball than a government diktat?'

'No, but it would be a good enough reason for him to drop his opposition if everybody else was on our side.'

'I don't see how that's gonna happen,' Diana said.

'We have to try,' Rory replied. 'Maia told me how important it is that your boss doesn't find him.'

'Didn't happen to say why, did she?'

'No, but if she says it's important, it's important, right?'

Diana attempted a smile. 'She's rarely wrong.'

'I want to help, okay?' Rory said firmly. 'I'll figure out a way.'

'Why?' she asked. 'Given what your mom's just said to you, why do you want to help so badly?'

There was a long pause. 'I screwed up,' Rory said finally. 'I was blinkered, you know that. I was so angry, I wasn't even telling myself the real reason but I knew I was angry. She wouldn't mistrust me if I hadn't behaved like a spoilt brat.'

'You had your reasons. She knows she screwed up not trusting you to make the right choice if she came right back... It is what it is now. There's no changing it.'

'I know that. But it's nothing to do with this. I'm not petty. I wouldn't risk something important just because I'm angry with my mom. We'll yell, sure, but when this is done.'

Diana inhaled deeply. 'I'll try and pass on the message. In the meantime –'

'In the meantime, I'm helping,' Rory cut in. 'Somehow. I'll figure it out.'

There was no doubting her determination. Diana left her to dress, pulling the door to behind her as she caught sight of Maia unhappily toying with her cereal at the table.

'What's going on?' her daughter asked immediately.

'Everything's going to be fine,' Diana replied.

Maia's forehead creased. 'Don't lie to me.'

'I'm not lying, sweetie. I'm trying to convince myself.'

'Why's Lorelai so mad with Rory? She hasn't done anything wrong.'

'It's complicated.' Seeing that Maia wouldn't be satisfied with such a vague answer, she continued, 'The worst thing I could imagine in my life is losing you. That happened to Lorelai and she blames herself. The fact that Rory came home last night should be a good thing – and it is – but sometimes you're scared of getting too close to something in case you lose it all over again.'

Eventually, her daughter nodded. 'That makes sense.'

With a little coaxing, Maia ate some more cereal then, when Rory emerged fully-clothed, went to get dressed herself. After a few seconds, Diana noticed Rory was hovering uncertainly.

'What's wrong?' she questioned.

Rory nibbled on her lip. 'Maia has an ability and so does Gary. Does...' She trailed off and winced. 'It's probably a secret, isn't it?'

'I don't think now's the time for us to keep secrets from each other,' she said. 'Yes, Rory, she does. She can manipulate electricity with her mind. Do you want the details? You might not like them.'

She nodded. 'I do.'

'At first it manifested in moments of extreme emotion. So the first time she saw you again – the lights blew. I don't think either of you noticed. And there were... When we first realised that we...'

'Makes sense,' Rory murmured.

Better to get it all out, Diana supposed. 'And the accident with the pole – that was caused by her ability.'

'Oh, my God.'

'She's got it more under control now,' Diana said quickly. 'Enough to help me get Maia back when she was missing.'

Rory swallowed, tears congregating in her eyes.

'What?' Diana murmured.

'You've been through so much, haven't you?'

The implication was 'without me'. Stepping forward hesitantly, Diana touched her arm. 'I know this is hard for you to comprehend. It was hard for me. I didn't wake up one day and plan this. But the 4400 are here for a reason. Your mom's a part of that and so is Maia but we are too – by extension, if nothing else. We have to fit in where we're meant to.'

'Let the story play out?' Rory said sadly.

'Something like that.'

'Do you know how it ends?'

'Not a clue,' she replied with a wry smile. She focused her attention on the bedroom door as Maia's head suddenly popped out. 'What is it, honey?'

'Have you called Alana yet?' her daughter asked.

'No, I haven't. I was going to.'

'You need to do it now.'

Diana glanced at Rory and shrugged. 'Okay, I'll do it now. Rory, can I use your cell phone?'

The teen shrugged and handed it over. 'Why not yours?'

'I don't know. I just want to be careful.'

Following the rule of caution, she went out into the garden and got a good distance away before she made the call. Alana answered, a note of caution in her own voice, probably at the unfamiliar number.

'Hi, it's me,' Diana said, 'is Tom around?'

'He's here, he hasn't left yet. He was just about to.'

Diana smiled to herself. 'Something told me. Can I speak to him please?'

A few moments and he came on the line. 'Diana, what's up?'

'Do you have any idea why Nina raided the inn this morning?' she asked without preamble.

'Is Gary –'

'He's safe,' she interrupted. 'We got a...hunch in the middle of the night.'

'Thank God for Maia,' he said.

She didn't correct him. 'So what's going on over there, Tom?'

'Nina disappeared a few days ago.' He paused. 'Yesterday afternoon a team left for unspecified reasons. Four agents, none of whom would ever tell me a damn thing. Probably why Nina picked them.'

'I found it suspicious that she'd been in town for at least a day before she raided the inn,' Diana replied.

'Could be that she wanted our guys on it,' Tom said. 'Nina's attitude towards local law enforcement is that they get in the way. What did she learn yesterday?'

'Very little from what I know. She visited us. I was off-balance, I'm afraid, but I didn't give anything away directly. And she visited Rory and Mrs Gilmore.'

Tom snorted. 'Mystery solved.'

'I don't think so,' she muttered. 'Emily came to warn us, Rory warned us too. That doesn't strike me as something an accomplice would do.' She paused. 'I think it was me, Tom. You were right. If we'd come straight back home then Nina wouldn't have been suspicious, she wouldn't have thought of Stars Hollow. She probably believes I stayed for Gary but I didn't. I stayed for me. If he's caught, if I'm arrested, if Maia... It's my own stupid fault.'

There was a long moment before Tom said, 'Everything happens for a reason, remember? If I was meant to be with Alana here in Seattle, you're meant to be with Lorelai in Stars Hollow. We both have to trust in that, okay?'

She swallowed down her emotion. 'Sure. Look,' she went on briskly, 'if any of those agents – or Nina, come to that – reappear then let me know. That means we're out of the woods for now.'

'Nina'll have another throw of the dice yet, Diana. Don't forget that. Don't underestimate her.' He growled with frustration. 'I wish there was something I could do to help.'

'You know the only thing I need from you, Tom.'

'You got it. Maia's safe with me, don't worry about it.'

Exhaling, she nodded to the air. 'Well, we might have a plan brewing at this end but that's all I know.'

'Good luck,' Tom said before he rang off.

Slowly, she walked back to the house. She needed to get Maia to school and she needed to get to the inn. Though, she conceded with a grimace, in between those two activities, she probably needed to shower.

When she got out of the shower an hour later, she felt marginally better. She dressed and walked to the inn, a little nervous that she hadn't had any contact from Lorelai. However, dropping in there wasn't unusual, all the staff would attest to that, so she went there as she would on any other day. She couldn't deny that she was petrified though.

If she'd been expecting a hive of activity when she arrived, she was disappointed. There were no sinister cars outside and no agents in reception. It was all a little too normal for her tastes. But Lorelai wasn't at the desk. Michel didn't know where she was. A search of the kitchens proved fruitless and Sookie was too shaken by the morning's events to be much use. As she wandered around the inn, Diana suddenly remembered where Lorelai had spent such a long time with a toddling Rory and hurried out to the grounds. Sure enough, she found Lorelai in that shed.

'You had me worried there,' she said as she sat on an upturned crate. There were cobwebs all around but she wasn't as wary of them as she might have been. 'Thought they might've...'

Lorelai looked so detached, it was painful. As if she had too many emotions and no way of dealing with them. Finally, she muttered, 'They searched the place from top to bottom. Nina was her usual charming self. Very interested in why there was a Gary staying in the inn who was suddenly unaccounted for. They're not going anywhere, Di. They're here until they find him. And I can't see it being long. So we've lost. Him, you, Luke. I mean, Luke! He didn't ask for this.'

Diana gnawed on her lip for a moment. 'If we can just keep it bottled up –'

'How?' Lorelai interrupted. 'Tell me how.'

She thought about it for a while. 'So we run. We take Gary and the girls and get out of here.'

'Rory sold us out,' Lorelai said.

'No, I don't believe that. If anyone did that, it was me with my desire to stay in Stars Hollow with you. I'm to blame.'

'It wasn't a coincidence, Di.'

'I'm not saying it was. It was luck, good luck and bad luck combined. I went for a walk last night,' she explained, 'because I was overwhelmed and Rory was there because she was too – that was luck, Lorelai. Good luck. Nina deciding I'd been in Stars Hollow too long – that was coincidental bad luck.'

'You don't really think that,' Lorelai said.

'I do,' she replied firmly. 'For the same reason that I believe there's a way out of this. We're not meant to end this way, you and I. Maia wasn't meant to find me only to lose me. Gary wasn't meant to be arrested. I have to believe that.'

Lorelai spluttered out a laugh. 'Your faith baffles me sometimes, you know?'

'I have faith in here,' Diana answered, patting her chest. 'There's a way out of this.'

Inhaling deeply, Lorelai asked, 'So how do we run? Have you thought that far?'

'If it comes to it, Shawn will fly in. I know he's offered to help and he could be here quickly. With Maia's precognition, Gary's telepathy and you, we could get out of here. It might be tight but we could do it.'

'Tell me again, why isn't that plan A?'

'Because I have a plan A,' Rory said from the doorway.

Lorelai looked at her as though she couldn't decide whether to hug or hit her. Finally, she settled on asking, 'What are you doing here?'

Rory looked between them. 'I've got a plan – didn't Diana tell you?'

'It was very vague,' she said in her defence. 'What did you mean, Rory?'

'I've been to Hartford working it out,' the teen replied.

'Hartford?' Lorelai repeated incredulously.

Glancing around, Rory asked, 'Are we safe here? Did they come in here? Plant anything?'

'They were more interested in the register,' her mother said. 'What are you doing, Rory? Why are you even here?'

'It's the right thing to do. I didn't do what you think I did. I want to prove that but, even more, I want to do what's right. You taught me to have a conscience. Well, here I am, I've got one. Now let me use it.'

There was a lengthy silence. Diana had to be the one to break it – for the sake of time if nothing else. 'Okay, Rory, what is it?'

'It's big,' she answered, 'it's involved. There are a lot of things could go wrong but if it goes right then the town won't want Gary out. They'll back us.'

'And for your next trick, you'll turn water to wine,' Lorelai muttered.

'We have to try.' Rory looked to Diana. 'Don't we?'

'Yes,' she agreed. 'But we need details, Rory, not a vague plan. This really might be a matter of life and death.'

She nodded and glanced back to her mother. 'This power of yours – how reliable, is it?'

Diana felt Lorelai's eyes on her. 'I'm sorry. The time for secrets has passed.'

'I suppose she can't do us any more damage,' Lorelai said.

'So?' Rory pressed. 'How reliable is it?'

Her mother shrugged. 'I can't turn it on and off like a tap yet but I'm getting there. Sometimes a jolt helps, something to make me angry. Why? Why do you want to know?'

'I'll explain. Then me and Diana have got to go for a walk around town.'

Once Lorelai realised what her daughter was proposing, she became even more incredulous. Diana wasn't entirely convinced herself but, as outlandish as the whole scheme was, it was better than doing nothing. They'd left Lorelai at the inn and proceeded with this little walk that Rory wanted them to take. She couldn't help but feel that it was best mother and daughter parted then, before any blood was shed. Besides, they had a lot to organise, as secretly as they could. They were meeting for coffee at Luke's when Maia was out of school, partly to fill him in on what was going on and partly because Diana felt they needed the time.

'How's it looking?' Rory asked.

Diana didn't budge her eyes from the path ahead. 'One so far. Loitering outside Doose's with a newspaper.' Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted another suit. 'There, in the gazebo. That's two down and two to go. If I know Nina, she'll be delegating. She'll be sat in the car somewhere. Not too far, she'll want to be in at the kill.'

'We need to find the car,' Rory said.

'I hope you know what you're doing.'

'With that bit of the plan?'

'With it all,' Diana replied. 'But this bit worries me.'

'If it goes wrong it won't be sabotage,' Rory said confidently. 'She thinks she can repair her relationship with me for a start. I asked her a favour and she wants to come through. I know that. I mean, if she wanted anything else, we'd be done already, wouldn't we? She knows too much.'


'Besides,' went on Rory with a smirk, 'she really, really hates Nina from when Maia was missing. It's the jackpot for her.'

Diana snickered and carried on with their walk. She and Rory talked throughout, mostly inconsequential chatter about the town, but it made it look as though they weren't scouring the town for agents. They found the other two easily enough – one was hiding in a bush near the inn and the final one had taken root near Lorelai's yard. How long he'd manage to stay there with Babette on the prowl was anyone's guess. It was Nina who was the tricky one. She wasn't parked too close to the town centre, away from the major thoroughfares. In fact, it was on a residential street they didn't think to check until they were despairing. If the agents were communicating about their movements, though, at least they looked consistent. After leaving Nina, they went back via the inn, to be seen there again, and ended up at the house. Since there was every chance someone had entered the house while they weren't there, they kept to benign topics until Rory left to make some calls.

Unable to shake the nervous energy that plagued her throughout the afternoon, Diana was grateful to leave to collect Maia from school. Her daughter was subdued. Whether that meant a premonition or simple apprehension, Diana didn't care to know. They proceeded to the diner in silence, finding Rory already there.

'You sit down, sweetie, she said, gesturing to Rory's table. Then she moved to the counter and caught a moment alone with Luke. 'Everything okay?'

'Quiet day,' he said with a miraculous air of nonchalance. 'What can I get you?'

'Just coffee and juice for now. We might eat when Lorelai arrives. I don't feel hungry but the girls should eat.'

He nodded. 'Surprised to see Rory here.'

'Mending fences.'

'Seems the moment for it,' he said. While he poured her coffee, he leaned in a little more closely. 'Any progress?'

'Well, we have a plan now,' she murmured. 'Can Caesar cope on his own in about half an hour or so? I need your help by the gazebo.'

He smiled an acknowledgment and she joined the girls at the table. Maia was telling Rory what she'd learned at school, not animatedly by any means but it was still sweet to hear. Diana wished there were going to be more times like this, with Rory home from college perhaps and Maia growing up in Stars Hollow happy and safe. It was a vision she wanted to focus on but one she couldn't quite believe in right now. It became even more of a sham when Lorelai arrived, exhausted and pale.

Diana rose to greet her and kissed her cheek. 'Have you eaten?'

Lorelai shook her head. 'Not hungry.'

She signalled to Luke. 'Okay, we're going to eat as a family. No arguments. Maia, Rory – what do you want?'

Underneath the table, Lorelai squeezed her hand and she caught her eye across the table. Diana felt the fire burning there, the determination that they were going to make the best of Rory's plan or die trying. Which, actually, was a distinct possibility when NTAC was involved.

They all made a gargantuan effort to be upbeat while they ate. It was hard work, especially on so little sleep, but they got through it. When they left, the others were confused by her leading them to the empty gazebo, even more so when Luke arrived with his hands in his pockets.

'What's going on, Di?' Lorelai asked.

She handed over her camera to Luke. 'I just want one of us all together. And then we'll tell you our insane, crazy plan.'

As they formed a sweet little group, Lorelai leaned against her shoulder. 'You always surprise me,' she muttered.

'Likewise, Gilmore,' she replied, feeling tears burn her eyelids. Just in front, Maia leaned back against her. Lorelai wrapped one arm around her waist then, tentatively, placed a hand on Rory's shoulder. Her daughter turned around and met her eye then pulled Maia close.

'Say cheese,' Luke said, his voice pained.

To Be Continued

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